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Книга Third Degree. Страница 32

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Unlike Natchez, thirty miles to the north, Athens Point had resisted the Yankee invasion during the Civil War. The town sent three companies to fight under Lee in Virginia, and those who remained behind held out until July 11, 1863, being forced to surrender after the fall of Vicksburg. While the Father of Waters thereafter flowed “unvexed to the sea,” as President Lincoln put it, the inland areas of southwest Mississippi remained vexed indeed. Gangs of Confederate deserters roamed the land, and marauding Union cavalry units under Colonel Embury Osband pillaged what remained of the state’s resources.

For a hundred years afterward, the town’s hero was Jean Larrieu, a diminutive but feisty planter who shot six cavalrymen from the windows of Belle Chêne plantation before being cut down on his porch by a saber during a parley. A Union private had struck his wife, and Larrieu refused to let the insult pass. His statue still stood atop a column in the town square. Even today, antebellum city buildings bore the scars of the shelling that resulted from the town’s firing on Admiral Porter’s passing ironclads in 1863. A historical marker commemorated the seventeen citizens who perished in the fires that day, while beside it a second marker memorialized six African Americans who died in Lusahatcha County during the struggle for civil rights.

The prejudice so prevalent in Danny’s childhood had diminished to a mild undercurrent between the races, but even today black and white remained largely divided in the physical sense. Black families tended to congregate in the city proper or to the south, while affluent whites and a few wealthy blacks built shining new subdivisions in the forests along Highway 24 to the north. Avalon was the newest and most exclusive of these, patterned after subdivisions of the same name in Gulfport and Natchez. Apparently the developer intended to replicate his utopian concept across the state. Danny could just make out the serpentine bends of Larrieu’s Creek, which marked one boundary of Avalon.

There, he said silently.

Avalon had been tastefully carved out of forestland that had been locked up in the trust of an old Athens Point family for a hundred years. A massive wrought-iron gate greeted prospective buyers as they turned off Highway 24 onto Cornwall, a broad street that wound its way eastward through the upscale development. Only fifteen houses had been built so far, with a handful of others under construction. The smallest lots available were 6.5 acres. The Shields house was easy to spot from the air, because its acreage was bordered by a bend of Larrieu’s Creek.

“I’ve been thinking,” Marilyn said, “I might want to try for an instrument rating after I get my VFR license.”

Danny chuckled. “You’re always pushing, aren’t you?”

She grinned. “I’m a trial lawyer. I guess it’s in my blood.”

He knew she expected him to keep up the banter, but his mind was on the land below. He could see the Shields house coming up on his left. “Drop down to five hundred feet. I think I see a herd of deer.”

Marilyn responded smoothly, and the Cessna quickly descended.

“Good. Stay well clear of those houses.” Danny would have liked to let Laurel hear the plane, but if there was any chance that Warren suspected Danny was her lover, then drawing attention to the Cessna would be insane. Warren had flown this plane so often that he would recognize it at a glance. And since Laurel-or Warren, for that matter-had not responded to the two text messages he had sent her, he had to play things very cool. “Somebody complained to me at the hardware store the other day,” Danny added. “Asked if we’re planning to bomb the neighborhood.”

Marilyn laughed and slid the plane a quarter mile to the east.

Danny got a perfect view of Laurel’s Acura parked behind her husband’s Volvo. The sight tied a knot in his stomach. What the hell was going on down there? Maybe they’re getting it on, he thought, surprised that he almost wanted this to be true. Because any alternative was bound to be worse.

“See any bucks?” Marilyn asked.

“What?”

“The deer. See any bucks?”

“Nah. Nothing but does, and they skipped into the trees.”

“Should I start my turn?”

“Yeah. Go ahead.” Danny closed his eyes and tried to think logically, but his nerves kept getting in the way. Or was it his emotions?

“An S-turn over Belle Chêne?” Marilyn asked.

“Let’s skip that,” said Danny, glancing at his watch. “Let’s take her back to the airport. I’ve got something I can’t be late for.”

“Suits me,” Marilyn said, watching him from the corner of her eye. “I’ve got a deposition this afternoon. Big case coming up.”

“I pity the lawyer you’re up against.”

She laughed. “You don’t know whether I’m a good lawyer or not.”

He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Oh, yes, I do.

“How?”

He tapped the bridge of his nose. “I’m a good judge of character.”

Marilyn elbowed him in the side, and he saw some color come into her cheeks. “I’ll bet you are,” she said, looking as if she wanted to say more.

Danny resisted the urge to look back toward Avalon as she made a controlled 180-degree turn.

“Are you all right?” she asked in a concerned voice.

“Sure, I’m fine.”

“You look worried to me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you worry before.”

This is why you’re a good lawyer, Danny thought. “Little bit of a headache, that’s all.”

“If you say so. But if you need any help…don’t hesitate to call me.”

He tried to laugh this off, but the more he thought about the situation, the more worried he became. The Cessna headed southwest toward the Mississippi River, where it curved between Angola Prison and DeSalle Island. “Marilyn, do you know anything about family law?”

She sighed. “I thought it was something like that. Yes, I know a lot. I used to handle nothing but divorces, until I got enough oil-business work to keep me going.”

Danny rubbed his forehead for a while. He’d talked to a couple of lawyers already, but neither had seemed to grasp the special nature of Michael’s educational problems. Praying that Marilyn was different, he said, “I need to ask you about a custody issue.”

She looked him in the eye and nodded, more serious then he’d ever seen her.

“It’s complicated,” he said.

She smiled encouragingly. “That’s why you need a professional. Fire away, Major.”

Laurel was nearly mad with fright. The Merlin’s Magic program had been hammering steadily at her Hotmail account for the best part of an hour, and sooner or later, the mindless digital battering ram would break through. It was fast and efficient, a brute-force strategy that guaranteed success, given sufficient time. Laurel didn’t know enough about probability theory to guess how long it might take for the program to hit on her password-surely longer than the fifteen or twenty minutes until Grant and Beth got home-but what was to stop Warren from keeping her and the children prisoner all night? He could run Merlin’s Magic until the contents of her secret files finally poured into his lap, even if it took until morning.

Shortly after Warren installed the program, Laurel had heard what she thought was the faint sound of an airplane engine far to the east. She was unable to get up and look, however, because Warren had retaped her ankles and calves, probably so he could focus on the password program without worrying about her. She was almost afraid to hope that the sound had come from Danny’s plane. And yet she did. Who else could help her? The fact that she had not answered his last two text messages might have worried him enough to overfly the house. But what more could he do?

You have to help yourself, said a voice in her head. Don’t wait to be saved. So she hadn’t. After a few minutes’ thought, she had hit on one possible method of escaping the duct tape. When Warren wasn’t looking, she had reversed her engagement ring-a radiant-cut twocarat diamond that he had bought three years ago to replace the sliver of a stone that had graced the ring when he proposed-and tested its ability to saw through duct tape. Where the tape was stretched tight, the raised edges of the diamond worked reasonably well. The problem was Warren, who had a clear line of sight to her. After complaining that the wet duct tape was itching badly, which was true, she began scratching often. Whenever Warren seemed entranced by the computer screen, she would saw at the vertical rip she’d made in the tape binding her lower legs. She worried that the diamond might pop out of its setting if she sawed too hard-white gold was a soft metal-but she was bracing the stone with her thumb as she cut, and besides, she saw no alternative.

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